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Oscars Open to Kevin Hart Return – If Comedian Says the Word (EXCLUSIVE)

Key parties involved in the annual Oscars telecast are open to the return of Kevin Hart as host, one insider close to the event told Variety, following an alternately contrite and defiant appearance on “The Ellen Show” on Thursday.

Leadership at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and ABC, the network that broadcasts the telecast, are open to Hart resuming his role as emcee if he signals that he wants the job. That message could come through a spokesperson or on social media, where Hart maintains an active presence on Instagram and Twitter, the individual added.

The about face is extraordinary because Hart’s appointment as host stirred up so much controversy. Past homophobic jokes that Hart had made resurfaced on Twitter and other social media platforms within hours of the announcement that he would emcee the broadcast. The comic was initially dismissive, saying he had previously addressed those remarks. He later offered a more full-throated apology after announcing he was declining the Academy’s offer. In the ensuing weeks, Oscar producers have struggled to find a replacement.

The Academy hoped Hart would have a meaningful conversation about his past tweets in the aftermath of his December exit, another insider close to the show’s well-documented troubles said. It’s unclear if Hart’s apologies on “Ellen” were sufficient, and if he demonstrated an understanding of the effect of his old tweets.  While Hart still sits atop a wish list of marquee hosts within the Academy, show producer Donna Gigliotti and her team have been working “non-stop” on living without him, the insider said. This includes options like a cameo-heavy, hostless show, which Variety exclusively reported last month.

Momentum built for Hart’s return on Thursday after both the network and the wider Academy leadership were made aware of a conversation between the comedian and DeGeneres in which she urged the comic to reconsider his decision to step down and stressed that his past homophobic comments were not representative of a man she called a friend. For his part, Hart said that the criticism was being driven by trolls who wanted to destroy his career.

“This was to destroy me,” he said. “This was to end all partnerships, all brand relationships, all investment opportunities, studio relationships, my production company and the people that work underneath me. This was to damage the lives that have been invested in me.”

Hart once again apologized for any hurt that he had caused with his remarks, adding “I don’t have a homophobic bone in my body.”

An ABC insider, however, emphasized to Variety that the Academy is responsible for negotiating with and securing an Oscars host — a process for which the network serves as an advisor. The same source said that ABC had no knowledge of whether direct conversations had yet taken place between the Academy and Hart.

Spokespeople for the Academy and ABC had no comment. A representative for Hart did not return Variety‘s request for comment.

As far as Hart is concerned, the comedian said he’s “evaluating” DeGeneres’ lengthy plea for him to take the stage on Hollywood’s big night.

“What we’re going to get to see on stage with you hosting the Oscars is sophistication, class, hilarity and you growing as a person,” DeGeneres told Hart. “Because most people would say, ‘I’m walking away … ’ For you to be the bigger man, for you to say I understand …and to not pay attention. There are so many haters out there.”

DeGeneres also detailed her conversation with an unnamed person or persons from the Academy — an organization the daytime queen said was emphatic to see him come back.

“We want him to host, we feel like maybe he misunderstood or it was handled wrong, or maybe we said the wrong thing,” DeGeneres said, quoting the Academy. “But we want him to host. Whatever we can do, we want him to host.”

One of the individuals with knowledge of the Academy disputed the apologetic tone that DeGeneres conveyed, saying the comments were taken out of context.

Oscar producers need to a make a decision on a host, or announce a major reinvention, with less than two months to the finish line. After all, one of the host’s primary duties is to hype the show. This week, telecast producer Gigliotti cut promos for the Feb. 24 telecast without an emcee encouraging viewers to tune in.

Listen to Kevin Hart’s exclusive interview with Variety:

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